Thursday, December 15, 2011

What "superfoods" should you eat? (if any)

I went searching for a list of superfoods to incorporate into the diet and now I see why nobody does it. Whose list is right? One is too "everyday foods" that don't really SEEM all that super. Another is so far-fetched that the foods require special-ordering or seeking out a specialty store.

The reality is that every culture ate differently (and with a very limited number of foods in terms of variety) and were profoundly healthy because they were eating whole, unprocessed, sometimes raw foods (see the book "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" by Dr. Weston Price if you want to be fascinated by this fact... there's even pictures!). So it stands to reason that a case could be made for ANY food being a "superfood" because in some culture before the industrial age--it probably was. Each food has it's own special qualities--it's own unique footprint left on your body when ingested.

Keeping all of this in mind, here is my own list of superfoods worth striving towards that are woefully absent in large quantities in the American diet, and make a monumental difference.

Water: Seriously. Not VitaminWater (have you seen the scandal about this? The Federal judge's review states "At oral arguments, defendants (Coca-Cola) suggested that no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking vitamin water was a healthy beverage."). Not tea. Not coffee. Not juice. It's NOT. THE. SAME. At minimum, alternate between water and your beverage of choice, but DRINK. WATER. Everyone knows "it's important" but it would stun you to learn the things (some small, some huge) that not having enough water will do to you. Got a headache when you wake up? Drink an entire, large glass of water and lay back down for 15 minutes. TRY it. Tired? Drink an entire, large glass of water and wait 15 minutes before grabbing the coffee. No issues? GREAT! DRINK IT ANYWAY! And get your kids to drink water. Switch them over to water from fruit juice. They're not getting anything but unstable blood sugar from it.

Current-season vegetables: If you can manage to go organic and local, great. But let's focus on the real deal: eating what is grown in your area at your time of year is what will feed your body in ways that we generally don't think of. Ayurvedic medicine focuses quite a bit on this concept. Some of the things you find in winter in the northern part of the country are things we are no longer eating--yet they're full of Vitamin C and other nutrients that we need at that time of year; in addition to the physiological benefits that come with eating within the cycles of nature.

Some kind of fats: Preferably the animal fats that you've been brainwashed to believe are harming us. The backlash of that is a country dying of health problems that they believe are CAUSED by fats and are actually being worsened by LACK of fats. Including cardiovascular disease (which has found to be worsened not by fats, but by sugars and refined starches). Fats make you feel full and carry you longer without having to eat--stabilizing your blood sugar. Some have cholesterol--which is critical to brain function and development in small children. Got a cholesterol "problem"? Let's talk (or do some of your own research instead of just taking the prescription the doctor hands you)--because cholesterol is generally not "the" problem, but a symptom of something else going wrong. Olives, nuts, butter (especially for people with ADD/ADHD), red meat, salmon... all of these things incorporated into a balanced eating plan are not only wonderful, but HEALTHY. And for children and pregnant women, this is all the more critical.

Some amount of raw food: Approximately 30% of our body's energy is devoted to digestion because we eat cooked foods. Raw foods still have living enzymes in them. Those enzymes break our food down for us. In fact, that's kind of why we cook food: TO destroy the enzymes that break down the food ("spoil" the food). But if you have fresh food available, eat it raw. In addition to improved energy, your body is not depleting it's own reserves of enzymes. Add to it that your body launches an immune response to cooked foods--putting your immune system (which is responsible for keeping us healthy, but also the system that controls allergies) into overdrive.

Some amount of fermented food: Fermented food also contains wonderfully healthful bacteria (probiotics) for our system. Yogurt is what we are all familiar with, but what about kefir (a fermented milk drink), kombucha (a fermented tea drink), sauerkraut, kimchi (a fermented cabbage that's a bit more spicy than sauerkraut), red cabbage (a red version of sauerkraut with more sweet tang to it), pickles, tamari (a wheat-free soy sauce), vinegar, sourdough bread, tempeh (a fermented bean cake--usually soy--that can be used in place of meat in some dishes), miso (a fermented bean and grain mixture in many varieties but also often sold made with soy and rice and used for soups, salad dressings, etc.), giardiniera (an Italian recipe of multiple fermented vegetables often used with antipasta dishes). TRY something! In our house, each person has a different favorite. Yogurt, kefir, home-made kombucha, red cabbage, vinegar, miso (we use Shiro miso in soup) and pickles... we love them!

This list is "content". It speaks nothing to how your overall eating plan looks, just what it contains that you may not be getting enough of--things that make a difference. Sometimes things we know are important and don't get nearly enough of; or things we've been beaten over the head to avoid--much to the detriment of the health of our country.

And sure, there are plenty of other foods out there with claims to great qualities. Unless you have a specific problem and are going to eat those foods en masse, I don't see the point. Incorporating them into a well-balanced diet when you can find and afford them is great. But you have plenty available to you that will serve you well without struggling.

That's my list. Are there plenty of other "superfoods" out there? They're all super foods. Eat them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meal planning

I think we've covered this before... the benefits of meal planning. Let's nutshell it:

Healthier
If you've thought it out for the week and then taken the time to ensure you have what you need, then you know you're prepared to cook complete meals and will be full of home-cooked goodness instead of going out to eat (and/or looking for an unhealthy dessert if you only cook half of a meal).

Add to it that when you write it all down and look at the big picture of your eating, you either look at it and know it's healthy or you realize "Hmmm... something's gotta change!" and you change it for the better.

Less expensive
It's just cheaper to eat at home even if you're eating better quality food.

Less stressful
Even if you consciously decide to eat out somewhere in your meal plan (I do it), that is WAY less stressful than trying to hurriedly decide what to eat, realize you have nothing to prepare at-hand, and then struggle to decide where you can eat out.

Conscious eating
You can't be healthy on auto-pilot. Take the small steps towards a healthier you by doing this simple task. If you didn't do it over the weekend, do it now--for the rest of the week. Even one full day planned out and prepared for is a lot better than none!

Monday, December 12, 2011

State of the Union

To date, we are:

Dairy- and soy-free completely.

We have come to realize that smallboyishness has no issue with fresh, whole corn. We're starting to think his issue with corn syrup has nothing to do with CORN, but with metals that leached into the corn syrup--specifically mercury. It would also explain his issues and reactions to his shots (which have high levels of metal in them). So we are currently corn SYRUP-free and occasionally indulge in corn in it's whole state. Corn is a grain, though, and we are toying with the idea of going completely grain-free.

We cheat on gluten. Not often, but given the length of time it takes to get out of your system, I wonder if we're ever completely gluten-free. That being said, I am planning on our being COMPLETELY gluten-free soon for a full year. I'm thinking January 1st. It won't really be difficult since there's so little in our diet.

We ARE salicylate-free. At least smallboyishness and I are. We have the most significant reactions--mostly with the excretory system. Blech. No tomatoes, oranges, apples, berries, grapes/raisins (yup... I drink rhubarb, pomegranate, or hibiscus honey-meade wine... remarkably good), peaches... the list goes on. But we manage.

And we are artificial coloring and preservative free including nitrates and nitrites. We are also clear of artificial and "natural" flavorings that are unspecified (just lumped under "natural flavorings").

I am done with my nearly 9 year hiatus from being the chief cook in the house and have taken it over with a vengeance. Weird. As quickly as the aversion came, it left. *sigh* It's nice because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing stuff the kids can do with me. Score.

We do finally own a juicer (a Green Star GS-2000) and we use it for fresh juices. Especially in the fall with Mabon moon cider (a mulled cider with grape and apple juice that reeked havoc on smallboyishness and myself since both are on the "no" list :/ ). It can make a "sorbet" of sorts if you put it on the nut butter setting and put frozen fruit through it. :)

We also recently bought a dehydrator and I'm regretting the kind we bought. It was an inexpensive one from a local box store, but it doesn't have nearly the versatility of the Excaliber that I should've bought--which can allow me not only to lay things out on a larger, rectangular sheet but would also allow me to remove trays and use the unit for yogurt. I think I'm going to return this one (it's stackable rings). I'm hoping to use it to experiment with some raw food recipes like pancakes. :)

My pressure canner has finally been mastered!! YAY!!! I'm a boiling-water bath kind of gal, but my needs have changed. I needed broth to keep and my freezer was getting full. Half of my standing freezer has 1/2 of a grassfed cow butchered up and I'm looking for pastured chickens to fill the rest. If I can find another way to store my broth, great. Now I need to set up my basement pantry to store it all because the laundry room isn't cutting it.

Life in our house has become very "food without a label". It's kind of neat. Healthfully, it's awesome. We're busy people but eating this way has slowed us down in wonderful ways that have reconnected us as a family. We COULD eat foods that are "safe" that come in a package for the sake of convenience (and make no mistake--we've done it). But it's not cost-efficient. And it not only eats up our money, but it eats up our connectedness as a family. So I'm not really sorry that it's become like this. I enjoy spending time planning and preparing our food... often side by side with my kids. The house smells different. We feel different--in so many ways.

In effect, smallboyishness' food allergies are pretty much the best thing that ever happened to this family--on many levels. He's my best little guy in the land--my best little man. And I am grateful in so many ways I couldn't have ever imagined back in the days when I was overwhelmed with removing dairy from my diet 7-1/2 years ago.

That's not to say that we are food Nazi's. Yes, we still go out to eat on occasion and when we are guests in someone's home--we are far more grateful for their generosity and happy to spend time with them than concerned about where their food comes from. As long as it's not one of our major allergens--we're good. People sometimes think that we would lay judgment on their eating decisions. I guess I would feel the same way in their shoes. I'm not really sure why we don't feel that way, but none of us do. I mean, I'm GLAD we're not like that! I just can't explain why. It's not a conscious effort or something we have to mentally rationalize so I don't quite know how or why we're like this. But we're not.

Food is a big picture thing. Our big picture is predominantly in our own control where food is concerned. So we don't sweat the small stuff. ;)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

How to work "slow food" into your eating

What is "slow food"? Well, you can take it by it's literal definition of "stuff that takes longer to cook". Or you can take it by it's more popular definition as "Everything fast food is not" and promotes local, sustainable foods and the planting of whatever you can contribute to your own diet. Really, it comes down to similar stuff: eating what is locally in season, as fresh and organic as you can get it.

In the winter, that means a lot of stuff that people are no longer accustomed to eating... sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, turnips, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower... The stuff we pass over looking for white potatoes, zucchini, carrots and string beans (which are not in season anywhere unless you live in the southern part of the U.S.).

Why aren't we eating these things? Do you have any clue that Butternut squash is high in Vitamin C? And that all of the winter veggies are high in Vitamins A and K (which is critical for blood clotting)?

These are just the vitamin content.

You can do this. It just takes some effort. C'mon. And share here your experiences!

People often complain that they don't have the time to cook the things I cook--especially in the winter. Root vegetables "take too long".

Too long for what?

Seriously... it's just a matter of planning and readjusting how you cook. While you're vegging in front of the TV, how hard is it to have popped some root veggies into the oven to roast for an hour? Clue: IT'S NOT! ;)

Once root vegetables are cooked, the skins usually peel right off--so it's not like you're left peeling stuff before you throw them into the oven. Beets, sweet potatoes/yams, turnips, all kinds of winter squash--it all follows the same pattern. So if you're just interested in eating them and don't have some kind of crazy recipe that requires peeling, cutting a special way and then doing all kinds of stuff, there's seriously NO reason to NOT eat root vegetables.

Then there's stock/broth (which really means the same thing except "stock" came from restaurants that used a specific method or set of ingredients for consistent taste). Stock. Really? This just sits on the stove for 1-3 days. At night I MIGHT turn it off while I sleep (I'm less inclined to do that now that I have an electric stove, but I turn it down to "not at a boil") but really, even if I do--so what? And when it's done, it can be frozen if I don't feel like canning it.

So it's a scheduling thing. Think about what you want to cook on the weekend, Monday or Tuesday and WRITE IT DOWN. Then, start all of this on Wednesday or Thursday night. By the time the weekend comes, you have food to eat and/or preserve depending on how much you've made.

And then there's the dark leafy greens. Those are easy. I have a recipe that I use for pretty much any leafy green: heat some olive oil in a large pot with a lid, add some garlic (minced, sliced—whatever) and let it brown for a minute, then add my washed, cut greens and coat them with the oil. Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat. In about five minutes, the greens are “wilted” (still a bright green, but really soft). I make just about everything like that—including collards.

Okay... you have the info, now GO GET 'EM!!! E-mail me if you need help at heather@heatherdegeorge.com
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